“We who believe in freedom cannot rest”: That’s what I’m professing

Between the pandemic, and the election cycle, and the general exhaustion level of…everyone…there were classes this semester that felt long and complex.

Like every semester, I wanted to end this one with integrity, and to give something for students to think about as they leave (or “leave the meeting”). For one course in particular, this ending began with me remembering something I learned (heard or read) early on in my teaching: To be a professor means I have to profess something.

Actually, to be a professor means I get to profess something. I am not just communicating facts and evaluating assignments; I also get to help students figure out who they are, what values they hold, what they are called to be about in this world, and how they are going to live it out. That’s why I love my work.

from the official Instagram of Ruby Bridges

And what I chose to profess was simple, but it felt right given the focus of the course. It was having them look again at the picture of Kamala Harris alongside a silhouette of Ruby Bridges. It was talking about Dr. King’s words, that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. It was showing them a picture of Ruby Bridges’ mother, Mrs. Lucille Bridges, and talking about her vision for her daughter to get an education and using that link to remind them that the personal is political and the political is personal. It was showing Ruby Bridges’ Instagram post from the week before, sharing about her mother’s passing. It was talking—again— about the fact that the moral arc of the universe is long, and it bends toward justice…and also, we are the ones who bend it. It was asking them to rest up over break and come back refreshed, because as the words of Ella Baker remind us, we who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes.

Ella’s Song (We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest) is something I have been listening to on almost constant repeat lately. It was written by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon who was a founding member of the SNCC Freedom Singers and who also founded Sweet Honey in the Rock. Sweet Honey in the Rock has the beautiful original rendition, and the Resistance Revival Chorus released a version in 2020 for Juneteenth. They are both powerful. You can learn more about Sweet Honey in the Rock here https://www.npr.org/2018/01/16/577690049/we-who-believe-in-freedom-shall-not-rest and here https://sweethoneyintherock.org/ I will keep this on my internal playlist into 2021 and beyond, to remind me what I am professing.

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